I picked up Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft and have been reading it cover to cover. This is my review of the book, chapter by chapter. Chapter 3 covers over 30 domains, so I'm posting about it as I work my way through the different domains.
I'Cath is a domain caught between reality and a dream forced upon its residents by the darklord Tsien Chiang. The book is admittedly a little unclear about biological details, but from what I can tell, everyone in the domain pretty much sleeps day and night. Those few who manage to stay awake during the day stay indoors, for fear of the jiangshi, wandering spirits of Tsien Chiang's four daughters. I'm not sure what they do to eat, but I guess part of the magic dream state is probably something like gentle repose.
The darklord Tsien Chiang's backstory is one of the clearest and most tidy of all darklords in the book so far. There's a clear beginning, a clear progression, and a very specific point at which she crosses over into Ravenloft. In fact, I daresay this is likely the only one so far specifically written with the "new" Ravenloft in mind.
Before Ravenloft, Tsien Chiang was the student of a Gold Dragon. Eventually, though, she ignored the dragon's guidance and experimented with some dangerous magic. She accidentally killed her mentor, but got the city of her dreams in return. She ruled the city until her subjects came to realise her tendency toward totalitarianism, and so they revolted. She quelled the revolt, and the next one, and so on until finally she used the same dangerous magic that got her into this mess, and after the spell was cast she found herself a darklord in Ravenloft.
Her main ability is to cause everyone within her domain to sleep and to share her dream of how her domain ought to be. She's constantly seeking perfection, and forever unable to achieve it. Player characters caught in her imposed slumber spell do not gain the benefits of a long rest, and in fact gain levels of exhaustion.
Tsien Chiang lives in the Palace of Bones, located at the centre of the city. It's surrounded by beautiful but deadly plants, and the city changes and shifts periodically, making the palace difficult to reach.
I tend to like, in games, a layered game world. I like the idea of switching back and forth between modes, like the living and the spirit world, or the prime material plane and the feywild or shadow plane, and so on. In I'Cath, I can imagine player characters having to toggle back and forth between the awakened world and the dream world, Guacamelee or Ibb & Obb style, to obtain the components of whatever solution will get them out of the domain.
The suggested plot for I'Cath is to disrupt Tsien Chiang's dream. Player characters can do this by helping her daughters find peace, to inspire the citizens to revolt, or to distract her from her dream by upsetting the status quo of the waking world. The one that seems most appealing to me in the daughter plot, and in fact I think the daughters are one of the strongest elements of the domain. There are four of them, one made entirely of eyes with the stats of a scarecrow, one made of pale wood with the stats of a dryad, another of teeth, and the fourth of living fog. Pretty grostesque and definitely horrifying, the daughters roam the streets in an ongoing attempt to please and gain the attention of their mother.
This domain obviously draws on Chinese mythology. While the book doesn't explicitly give the location of Tsien Chiang's original city, I like to think that she originated in Kara-Tur. Whatever her origin, I'Cath is easily my new favourite domain. Tsien Chiang's story is engrossing and satisfying, her daughters are terrifying and intriguing, and the idea of a game set in two separate locations that are also the same location is too much to resist.